In Decorah, Rubaiyat acts like an upscale Cheers. They serve mussels in saffron cream sauce and New Zealand lamp chops with a pistachio demi glaze, but the attitude is casual - and if you've been there before, the hostess knows your name. If your table isn't ready when you arrive, sit tight and wait your turn. Have a drink while you're at it.
The dining room and bar are large, open and divided by a wall. The decor aims at Napa Valley wine routes, complete with paintings in rich, jewel tones. The Friday night our group chose was busy; our 8 p.m. reservation turning into an 8:45 seating. But at least we all had glasses of wine to tide us over.
The menu boasts an impressive, if not overdone, list of 20 entrées. All the classics are present from veal Parmesan to smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp to fettuccine Alfredo. Entrées arrive looking like they were plated by Jackson Pollock. Sauces are splattered in zigzags and nuts are pulverized to a dust to give the sauce some texture.
Our meals came with house salads; the Caesar could equally have been called "Garlic Lovers Greens." The dish was delicious but intensely garlicky. We were also served doughy, homemade bread with a hint of nutmeg - honestly, one of the evening's highlights. The grilled orange roughy was a hit at our table, however the hummus platter lacked originality and flavor. We had high hopes for the desserts made in-house, but unfortunately they didn't stack up. The crème brûlée was veneered with a crispy, burnt top. Sadly, its insides were a gooey, runny mess of cream and sugar, not the rich custard the dessert is known for. And the key lime pie, perfect in its cookie crust and tangy tart filling, was smothered with blueberries and syrup. The berries and lime didn't mingle well.
One thing Rubaiyat really does take points for is the wine list. The restaurant itself was born while owners Kim and Andy Bonnet were touring the California wine country. Over a bottle of Cakebread Cellars Rubaiyat wine the couple dreamed up their Midwest wine bar and eatery. One can choose from over 200 wines. A little daunting? Kim, the resident sommelier, will gladly help you find a pairing.
Rubaiyat is the perfect setting for a family or group dinner. Or go all out and pop a cork while trying a new bottle, chosen specifically to your liking.